It’s been a busy year for the Lincoln Motor Company. After launching its redesigned flagship Navigator, naming a new vice president, and unveiling the new full-sized Aviator, the American luxury brand has now gone to market with the midsized Nautilus SUV, which goes head-to-head with the Audi A5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, and Volvo XC60.
The 2019 Nautilus replaces the Lincoln MKX. Although the bones and many of the mechanical parts carry over from the previous model, the new Nautilus boasts a more elegant design and better drivability than its predecessor. “Our goal with Nautilus, like all Lincoln vehicles, was this idea of quiet flight,” says Jim Pfeiffer, the head of vehicle integrations for Lincoln. “We thought about what was missing, in terms of interior noise, and did things to improve the inputs from the road to get a smoother ride.”
We drove the Nautilus amidst the arid mountain landscape of inland Santa Barbara, Calif., down tight, narrow roads and on straight highways. Our Black Label edition—the top-of-the-line model that includes upgraded features and a variety of owner services—glimmered in Chroma Elite Copper metallic paint, whose warmth complemented silvery chrome trim and the 21-inch wheels, designed to look like jet turbines. The redesigned front end of the Nautilus is capped with Lincoln’s new signature grille, which appears on the Continental sedan and the Navigator.
Under the hood of our all-wheel-drive Black Label (it’s also available in front-wheel-drive) is a 2.7-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6, paired with a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Shifts are smooth and quiet, which was important for Pfeiffer and his team. “We spent a lot of time on the shift feel and calibration,” he says. With 335 hp and 380 ft lbs of torque at our disposal, the Nautilus produces enough power for a comfortable cruise out of town. A second engine choice is a new 2-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder, which makes 250 hp and comes with an automatic start-stop system. For added efficiency, Lincoln’s electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system automatically disconnects when not needed.
On the highway that leads northwest toward the town of Los Olivos, the Nautilus’ improved active noise cancellation, acoustic glass in the front and rear, and sound insulation in the wheels kept things serene as my driving companion and I admired rows of lavender fields and chatted away without having to raise our voices. The Nautilus is clearly not a performance vehicle, but steering and handling remain comfortable when the roads get twisty, helped in part by a retuned suspension with new rear sub-bushings.
Lincoln claims to offer more standard driver assistance than any other brand, including adaptive stop-and-go with a new automatic lane-centering feature, which we tested at a variety of speeds. While not as sophisticated as Cadillac’s Super Cruise or Mercedes-Benz’s Intelligent Drive systems, Lincoln’s steering assist will automatically make corrections to keep the vehicle in the lane, as long as the lines on the road are visible and the driver’s hands are firmly on the wheel.
The interior of the Lincoln Nautilus is understated and tasteful, with optional 22-way front leather seats that you can nestle into and feel just as relaxed and supported—if not more so—than from those found in German competitors. Rear seats fit our tall colleagues without an issue, and cargo space was on par with other midsize SUVs.
In all, the Nautilus is a compelling alternative to the usual suspects in this segment, with prices that start at $40,340 for the 2-liter engine; a Black Label with the bigger engine and all the boxes checked tops out at nearly $71,000. Lincoln focuses on customer service as much as it does its vehicles, and Black Label clients in particular get access to a variety of perks, including complimentary car washes, home pickup and delivery for service appointments, and access to a concierge.